May 2022 Thoughts on Beer
Brilliance doesn't come easy
There’s no great secret to beer, if only you would listen, writes Alastair Gilmour.
United are at home and I’m in the pub. The reasons for my matchday non-attendance are too complex for a supposedly entertaining slot like this (and anyway, they didn’t come to see me when I was bad). But my drinking pals are at the game; usual seats, East Stand Upper Tier. So, I’m on my own.
On my own in a rural pub except for a few four o’clock regulars and one courting couple – plus Hector. In the normal course of events, everyone tries to avoid Hector, but today there’s no escape. He’s clocked me.
But first, a background: Hector is very much a country boy, although he left his boyhood five decades hence, maybe six. He has worked all his life on farms, in forestry, stables, gardens and kennels and rarely attended school. But he has won county fair competitions for ploughing, dog obedience and wood carving and made quite a fortune by betting on horse-talk. However, his interpersonal and social skills remain underdeveloped, to say the least. There’s a Hector in every rustic setting.
Hector walks the several miles to the pub then walks the several miles home, which he would do even if there were buses to where he lives. He can actually be quite bearable in small doses but on darker days when his pub time is spent in a slow descent into intoxication he is little other than a pest. Today – Saturday – is one of those.
Eventually, he shimmies neatly onto the bench beside me.
“Have you ever ridden point-to-point?” he asks.
“No, never,” I sigh at being posed the same set of questions virtually every time I’ve met him.
“Have you ever been hair coursing?”
“No Hector, never.”
Have you ever hunted mink?”
“No Hector, I have never hunted mink, never eaten mink and never worn mink. And before you ask, I have never been to Minsk.”
To my alarm, Hector moves even closer. My gaze drifts past him and lingers on the Budweiser Budvar font on the bar.
“That’s a nice drink,” he says, following my eyes to the bright red, white and gold trimmed sign. “Budweiser Budvar, the Czech state-owned beer, has Protected Geographical Indication status, meaning it can only be brewed in Ceské Budéjovice in the Czech Republic. So when you’re sipping a glass you’re drinking a nation. It’s attractively golden in colour with a fine bubbly head which protects the floral and grapefruit traces on the nose and its dry, biscuity palate and bittersweet malt finish."
I splutter into my pint. “What’s all this, Hector? What on earth have you been drinking?”
Next along the line of handpulls is Deuchar’s IPA which I nod towards.
“An extraordinary hoppy and refreshing ale,” says Hector. “Its fruitiness is balanced by a generous malt content and a lingering, bitter aftertaste.”
I raise my glass to see if he can guess what’s in it. He does.
“Fuller’s London Pride, one of the nation’s best-selling premium cask bitters, I’d recognise it a mile off. We often forget it’s right there on this bar but invariably when try one for old-times’ sake, we’re astounded at its appearance, its fruity, sweet malt nose and spicy, floral hoppiness, its fabled marmalade undercurrents and dry, lingering finish.”
Perhaps we’ve been getting Hector wrong all along; the man’s a walking beer encyclopaedia; a living, breathing mastermind. “Where did you get that knowledge?” I ask him rather more bluntly than intended.
“From you guys,” he says. “I just listen in. Beer is all you lot ever talk about.”
At that point, the rest of my gang stroll in from East Stand Upper Tier, suitably crestfallen at yet another home defeat.
“You’ll never believe this,” I say. “Hector is a genius, a beer brainbox; he knows all there is to know about the stuff. Hector, come over here please and tell them just what you’ve been telling me.”
Hector, eyes all a-sparkle, bum-cheeks his way along the row of stools, takes hold of my glass of London Pride and tilts it towards the light.
“Alastair,” he says. “Have you ever hunted mink?”
A lifetime of outdoor work takes its toll on farmhands like Hector